I was in the airport the other day awaiting my flight and decided to go into a bookstore. In a prominent position sat a book called "Religion of Peace?" by a Robert Spencer. Intrigued by the title I examined the copy only to discover that it is one of the crudest and blatantly ahistorical attacks on Islam that I have seen in a quite a while. Essentially, the author attempts to argue that Christianity is the religion of peace and Islam is not.
My purpose in writing this commentary is not to engage in an attack on any religion. Within both Christianity and Islam, not to mention other religions, there have been strong tendencies to support justice, as well as tendencies towards intolerance and aggression. Each person has a right to believe and worship as they see fit. Yet for writers, such as Spencer, to act as if the historical record is clear and decisive against one religion -Islam -- is as outrageous as it is ignorant. Anyone remember the role of Christianity in the Crusades; the expulsion of Jews and Muslims from Spain; the African slave trade; the invasion of the Western Hemisphere; or the silence of the Pope on the Holocaust against the Jews?
OK, now that we have that out of the way, it is worth asking what lies behind such attacks.
A section of the ruling group in the United States has decided that in order to ensure U.S. world dominance, there must be enemies that we can focus upon. During the Cold War against the Soviet Union (and, to some extent against China), the enemies were the Communists, or anyone who resembled a communist. The perpetual enemy found itself in all facets of our culture. In science fiction, for instance, the classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers -- along with a host of other science fiction films and literature -- was a metaphor for alleged 'creeping communism.' The "Red Menace" was everywhere, or at least so we were told. The Red Menace ensured that allies of the United States stayed in line and that dissent WITHIN the United States remained in check. Thus, anyone questioning anything concerning the established order became a 'communist' or a 'communist sympathizer.' Case in point: Martin Luther King.
Though communism and socialism have not disappeared, the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the USSR did change the world and present significant problems for both those sections of the US ruling group intent on keeping military budgets in the stratosphere and those who wanted to make sure that the nations of this planet marched in line after the United States.
The alleged threat of political Islam and Islamic terrorism was then introduced as a substitute for the Red Menace, though this held very little credibility until the ugliness of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
From that moment on, the demonization of the Arab world -- such demonization having a long history in U.S. political and cultural circles -- and that of Islam went into overdrive. Despite protests by President Bush that he was not attacking Islam and Muslims, the repression that followed 9/11, unmatched by any U.S. response to other forms of domestic terrorism, e.g., the Ku Klux Klan, or the Oklahoma City bombings, clearly targeted and profiled Arabs, Muslims and anyone who 'resembled' an Arab, North African and/or Central Asian. Thus, the new enemy became the evil Muslim, the evil Arab, etc., and we were led to believe that they shared nothing in common with our alleged humanity.
It is in this context that ridiculous and insulting tirades against Islam have emerged. Rather than a critical examination of Islam, Christianity and Judaism, for instance, we are treated, on a regular basis, to assaults on anything not Judeo-Christian (and often enough, anything not Christian!). History is tossed to the wind and we are led to believe that the 21st century is to be a clash of civilizations, to borrow from the notorious Samuel P. Huntington.
While it is absolutely the case that there are fascist and other extreme elements within the Muslim world, it is also quite obvious that hiding behind the cross are often extreme right-wing elements. The name Timothy McVeigh should, of course, ring a bell here.
The demonization of Islam and the Arab World serves as a frenzied means to avoid examining U.S. foreign policy and the motivations for various actions that the United States has conducted over the years throughout the globe. What we are witnessing has nothing to do with appreciating a real threat, but instead with instilling fear among all of us regarding an alleged creeping, unknown menace that purportedly seeks to conquer the world.
What these hysterics do, however, are silence those who wish to ask some very basic questions … such as, if these fundamentalists are so bad, why did the United States cozy up to them from the late 1960s on?
I'm sorry. That's right. We are not supposed to ask questions, but rather get in line for the next Crusade.
Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a long-time labor and international activist and writer.